Oct. 18, 1997
1997-98 Season Outlook
Memories of the Notre Dame women's cross country team's only trip to the NCAA team championships in 1993 remain fresh. Head coach Tim Connelly looks at his 1997 lineup that is extremely talented at the top but deep throughout and envisions a return trip to the NCAA meet.
"We bring everyone back who contributed in 1996 and many of these runners have made some big improvements," says Connelly, who enters his 10th year as head coach. "If you look at our team, we are still going to have two really good runners at the front but I think that the in the middle of the lineup, we are going to be a lot better than we were last year."
The depth and talent of this team began to surface a year ago at the BIG EAST championships, where the Irish placed fifth after finishing seventh in their first year in 1995.
"We were fifth in the BIG EAST last year and four teams that finished ahead of us were in the top 12 at the NCAA meet," says Connelly. "We were only 20 points out of fourth place so the other teams are not that far away. We are getting closer and closer to competing with those top teams."
One of the main contributors to getting the Irish closer to the top is sophomore All-American JoAnna Deeter (Glen Ellyn, Ill.). Deeter turned in a performance as a freshman that was the best by any runner ever in Notre Dame women's cross country history. A winner of four meets, Deeter's lowest finish was third at the NCAA championships, which was the best finish for any Notre Dame cross country runner since Bill Clark placed second in 1964.
"JoAnna was simply amazing last year," says Connelly. "She is going to run well again for us and be the leader on our team, but to expect what happened last year to happen again is asking too much."
Sophomore Nicole LaSelle (Dayton, Ohio) gave the Irish consistent finishes in her six races in '96 as she finished no lower than 10th. She came on strong at the end of the season with her 10th-place finishes at both the BIG EAST and the District IV meet. LaSelle will return to cross country after sitting out the '97 track season with a foot injury.
"Nicole had a decent summer after her injury but we don't know how fit she will be early on," says Connelly. "By November, Nicole will be as strong as she was last November when she was at her best."
Alison Klemmer (Troy, Mich.), another sophomore, came in as a freshman challenging for the number three spot in the lineup before injuries sidetracked her. Now fully recovered, Klemmer is looking to break into the lineup in 1997.
"We had thought Alison might be our number three runner last year," says Connelly. "Now she is back and healthy and should jump right into the lineup."
After the top three, Connelly is pointing toward the middle of the lineup to determine just how far the 1997 Irish can run. A large contingent of runners should make up this pack.
"We are fortunate to have a large group of runners after the top three," says Connelly. "How these runners finish will decide how our team finishes."
Fifth-year veteran Heidi Reichenbach (Plainfield, Ill.) is the veteran of the team, as the only active member of the 1993 team which participated in the NCAA championship. She ran in five races in 1996 and was the third Irish runner to finish at the District IV meet as she placed 31st in 18:19.
Senior Janel Kiley (Somerville, Mass.) ran in six cross country meets a year ago and consistently finished in the top seven. Mieke Walsh (York, Pa.) is another senior who gave the Irish consistent results in 1996. Walsh finished third for the Irish in three meets, including the deep field at the BIG EAST championships.
"Our seniors are a group of runners who have really worked hard and it is beginning to pay off for them," says Connelly.
Among the juniors, Kelly Peterson (Escondido, Calif.) finished in the top five of six races she ran in 1996. One of her top performances came at the Notre Dame Invitational as she placed 28th in 17:51.
Sophomore Erin Luby (Inverness, Ill.) ran in all six cross country races, finishing in the top six in all but one race. She had her best performance at the BIG EAST championships as she was the fifth Irish finisher.
Perhaps Notre Dame's sophomore class boasts the most depth, thanks to its size. In addition to Deeter, LaSelle, Luby and Klemmer, there are a number of sophomores poised to mature as runners in 1997.
"We have some runners who were not in our top seven last year but realistically can be there now," says Connelly. "At times they all have shown signs that they are capable and some have made big improvements on the track which will help them in cross country."
Denise Bakula (North Tonawanda, N.Y.) won the junior varsity race at the '96 National Catholic Invitational and nearly broke into the top seven at the BIG EAST championships. She placed fourth at the Valparaiso Invitational and was the second Notre Dame runner to finish.
Charlotte Kelly (Butler, Pa.) finished just behind Bakula at the Valparaiso Invitational in fifth place. She was also among the top seven at the Central Collegiate Championships and was third in the junior varsity race at the Notre Dame Invitational.
Cara Motter (Brawley, Calif.) saw action in four cross country races as a freshman. She had her best results at the Valparaiso Invitational with her sixth-place finish.
Patti Rice (Mishawaka, Ind.) also ran in four cross country races and was runner-up at the Valparaiso Invitational. After a strong track season and summer of training, Rice enters the cross country season primed to break into the lineup.
Connelly also enjoys the benefit of a talented freshman class but is uncertain of its ability to impact the program immediately.
"We have some talented runners in the freshman class, but I am not sure if they are ready to step in," says Connelly. "The upperclassmen have put in a lot of hard work already and it will be difficult - although not impossible - for the freshmen to challenge them."
Leanne Brady (Trumbull, Conn.) and Jennifer Pavela (LaCrosse, Wis.) are two freshmen who could give the Irish contributions. Brady won five state track titles at St. Joseph High School but will have to adjust to cross country after participating only in track in high school. Pavela led Aquinas High School to a cross country championship and won five individual state track titles.
"When we started the program, our primary focus was to improve every year," says Connelly. "For as young as we were last year, we did a really good job. The improvements that the runners have made should be apparent in our results in 1997."Women Geared For Return to NCAA ChampionshipNicole LaSelle is coming off an impressive freshman season in which she finished no lower than 10th in any race.